Michael Pearce

The promise of a new puppy

By Michael Pearce

The Wichita Eagle

The puppy to be named Cade, at five weeks. Watch out ducks, he's going be growing all summer and going a lot this summer and fall.
The puppy to be named Cade, at five weeks. Watch out ducks, he's going be growing all summer and going a lot this summer and fall. The Wichita Eagle

She was supposed to be Grace.

Instead, he will be named Cade when he comes to Kansas in about two weeks.

At five weeks old he doesn't look too imposing in a photo, but hopefully by this time next year he'll have a few hundred retrieves behind him. I'm already glad I didn't wait another year.

When I first got Hank in 2001, I promised myself I wouldn't get another Lab puppy until he was gone. I'd tried the "start a new pup, while finishing up the old dog," in the past and I hadn't given either dog the time and attention they deserved.

Also at my age, I kind of know what it's like to slow down and the frustration of being left behind.

But about three weeks ago I realized though he's alive, and enjoys laying in the sun and meal times, Hank is mostly gone. He still wants to go get the newspaper every morning, but I have to go find it for him, even on bare concrete, so he can carry it to the house, after I boost him up the steps..

He has no desire to go anywhere beyond our yard. I really don't think he'll even notice if I'm spending time with a puppy. He showed no interest in a turkey I brought home this spring.

Those that know Hank, and his total fixation with the big birds, know what that means.

The thought of going through a season without an accomplished hunting dog, something I basically experienced last year for the first time since 1965, felt like a punch in the gut and this year’s seasons were still four months away.

Ideally I'd have started searching for puppies and breedings mid-winter. As is, I lucked into what I wanted in Minnesota. Unfortunately the only female was spoken for. The litter was strong enough I opted for a male.

Another place had a well-bred female puppy, but she was almost five months old and I’d have missed out on some bonding time. Others had yellow Lab puppies. Since Kathy wears a lot of dark clothing to work, light hair wouldn’t work well.

(I'm blessed that Kathy supports my judgment on such things, and enjoys puppies even more than I do.)

Both of Cade's parents are master hunters on the hunt test scene and are hunted a lot. By “a lot,” I mean as much as I hunt in a year, or more.

The sire has some field trial accomplishments, so both are proven to be very trainable. Both also have "off switches" meaning they are very mellow around the house and waterfowl blinds when not being worked.

Both are sizable Labs. The female is about 65 pounds and the male about 75 pounds. I’m not a fan of the current trend towards smaller Labs. Often they seem a bit harder to handle. I also want a dog that’s tall enough to have a chance of standing in the rivers and marshes we hunt. Since I hunt a lot of big Canada geese, some added size helps. Of course Cade will get to fetch some fall turkeys.

We'll see.

Yes we know this summer will bring a few sleep-interrupted nights as a puppy gets used to crate training, and some messes in the house. Hopefully there won't be any chewed shoes or many dug up plants in the garden.

But Kathy and I both like working with puppies, and watching the daily progress. I can remember the first backyard retrieves from five other dogs I've trained, their first swims and first wild birds afield.

Cade should be ready for some dove and teal hunts in early September at the whopping age of five months, about the age when Hank did around 200 fetches in two weeks on the birds. Mysti, a great golden retriever did about the same during her first dove season back in '82. She was even younger.

This first season will be mostly about simple obedience and having fun to help create a love for hunting, and a bond of hunting with me.

Next spring will come things like steadying under gunfire, learning how to do long blind retrieves and handling with whistle commands and hand signals.

We're both in for a pretty good time.

Oh, it will still be just Hank and me getting the newspaper every morning for as long as the old guy is able.